BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
WOMEN affected by the obstetric fistula are said to be failing to access medical attention due to prioritisation of COVID-19 programming.
The condition is a devastating injury that occurs during childbirth, caused mainly by prolonged obstructed labour.
Reports revealed that as the world commemorated International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, several Zimbabwean women were living with the stigma associated with the disease which results in urine leaks, or even the escape of faecal matter.
A study conducted at Mashoko Hospital to assess the impact of restrictions on movement and gathering on people brought about by COVID-19 established that many women failed to undergo the surgery during locldowns.
The study looked at how the COVID-19 pandemic affected programming for obstetric fistula repairs.
In the study, researchers noted that the COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected performance of fistula repairs, with only 25 women repaired in 2020 as compared to 313 in 2019.
It stated that 90 women were asked to come for repairs, but 52 did not make it due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“Two-thirds of those women suffered from urinary incontinence while the other third had faecal incontinence,” the study said.
It concluded that the pandemic greatly affected programming of fistula repairs and recommended that the Health ministry should institute measures to resume programming as soon as the situation allows it to do so.
A recent Transparency International Zimbabwe report titled I Never Thought I Could Get Healed From This, which laid bare the physical and psychological trauma that women and girls who experience obstetric fistula complications suffered, noted that pregnant women and girls were at risk of life-changing childbirth-related injuries, including obstetric fistula.
“Zimbabwe has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world and pregnant women have to gamble with their lives by opting for home births due to underfunded and under-resourced government hospitals or because they cannot afford the costs of care. Cultural beliefs also mean that some women don’t have a choice, but to submit to home births administered by untrained family or community members,” Deprose Muchena the Amnesty International director for East and Southern Africa said.
Meanwhile, the Community Advocacy Development has called on government to fully fund and operationalise the free maternal healthcare policy so that it includes post-natal care services.